Breast milk is magical.
It just so happens that if your child is drinking breast milk, it offers them all of the fluids they need. Since it’s 88% water, it’s not necessary to give them any extra water.
This was surprising to me and I’m sure it will be to you too—giving them water is dangerous and something that should be avoided. The same goes with formula-fed babies. They just don’t need any extra water.
The fact is, it’s generally not a good idea to give a baby water before 6 months of age. (source)
Even on a hot day, your baby won’t need any additional water, as long as you allow them to breastfeed as needed.
Let’s dive into exactly why you shouldn’t give an infant water.
Why it’s dangerous to give extra water to young babies.
The main reason you shouldn’t give your infant water is because it interferes with their ability to absorb the nutrients in your breast milk or formula. (source)
“Supplementation in the first few days interferes with the normal frequency of breastfeedings. If the supplement is water or glucose water, the infant is at increased risk for increased bilirubin, excess weight loss, longer hospital stay, and potential water intoxication.”
Dr. James P. Keating, retired medical director of the St. Louis CHildren’s Hospital Diagnostic Center puts it like this: too much water dilutes a baby’s normal sodium levels and can lead to seizures, coma, brain damage and death.
Needless to say, it’s not safe to let an infant drink water, period.
What about when it comes to formula?
Adding too much water to formula can not only cause the same water intoxication, but your child won’t be getting enough vitamins and nutrients. Don’t try to stretch out the formula with more water than the directions suggest.
When you can start introducing water.
Most experts agree that it’s safe to introduce your baby to water after they’ve started eating solids. This will be roughly around 6 months of age.
This is especially easier to accomplish when they’re old enough to start to drink on their own from a sippy cup. Feel free to give them small sips of water, but make sure not to overdo it, because it can give them a tummy ache, or make them too full to eat.
After their first birthday, they’ll be well into eating solids and whole milk, and you’ll likely be fine to give them as much water as you want!